Mary and I just returned from the final public hearing for the 2009 King County budget at the Metropolitan King County Council chambers. Mary spoke on behalf of the Puget Sound Fresh program, the County Ag. Program staff, and the future of farmers and farmland in King County. Since many programs are on the "chopping block" to be cut from the County budget, there was a huge turnout of people to speak their minds to the council members. At the bang of the opening gavel, 63 people had signed up to speak. By my count, tenof the speakers spoke about county ag. programs, which is a fantastic percentage. In the ten, there was wonderful representation from various sectors connected to local farms and the ag. programs:
1. Seth Caswell, chef and president of Seattle Chefs' Collaborative
2. Andrew Stout, farmer and owner of Full Circle Farm (and president of Sno-Valley Tilth)
3. Wade Bennet, farmer and owner of Rockridge Orchards
3. Chris Curtis, executive director of Neighborhood Farmers Market Association, which operates seven farmers markets in Seattle
4. Larry Pickering, King County Ag. Commissioner
5. Kathy Pryor, Washington Toxics Coalition
6. Brad Gaolach, Director of WSU - King County Extension
7. Nancy Hutto, Snoqualmie Valley Honey Farm andKing County Ag. Commissioner
8. Michele Blakely, Growing Things Farm and King County Ag. Commissioner
9. Dave Hedlin, Hedlin Farm
And, of course, 10. Mary Embleton, executive director of Cascade Harvest Coalition.
In addition to the ten speakers, there were many ag program supporters throughout the 150 people in the council chambers including:
Sarah Garitone from Pierce Conservation District, Debbie Arenth from Fall City Farms, Lori Taylor from Bellevue Farmers Market, and me.
The speakers hit on a number of quality points for continuing funding for ag programs and staff. Here are some of the best from my notes:
1. Agriculture is a long term investment. It takes time to build successful ag. operations. To reduce or eliminate County agricultural program funding would halt all momentum for current farmers and severly reduce the chances for success for future farmers.
2. King County has been a national leader for crafting public policy and programs that help agriculture and should continue to lead the way toward promoting and protecting local agriculture.
3. Public demand for local food is high and rapidly increasing. Existing markets are growing and new markets are trying to open. Farmers Markets and other market opportunties need support and assistance to best serve farmers, consumers and communities.
4. The County should treat farming as a valuable resource that needs preservation, conservation and help with development for future opportunities. For the future of agriculture, especially "fringe ag" near urban areas, it is important that the county continue to "go to bat" for farmers.
5. Importance of local agriculture in the health of the local economy.
6. Food and water will be the major crises of the 21st century...even more so than energy.
7. Farms have a hugely positive ecological impact on King County. Example: 16 certified Salmon Safe farms, with 5 more on the certification waiting list.
It was a good show of support for King County ag programs and staff. I hope the council members heard the words and acknowleged the people who turned out to voice their support for continued County participation in building a healthier and more sustainable food system.